Magazine article Artforum International

Jeff Koons: Christ and the Lamb

Magazine article Artforum International

Jeff Koons: Christ and the Lamb

Article excerpt

Anniversaries mean trips down Memory Lane; and now, thinking of 30+ years of Artforum lands me back in March 1965, when I first appeared in a journal already three years old but still the hottest new art-magazine in town. I had a hot and youthful topic, too, Frank Stella, who was then not even as old as Artforum is today, but who had already polarized the art world into the ranks of sneerers versus enthusiasts. Now I'm asked to select a work of art that updates for me those eureka experiences of the 1960s. I make a beeline for Jeff Koons.

Koons is certainly the artist who has most upset and rejuvenated my seeing and thinking in the last decade. Choosing a work, however, is harder, since Koons' range--from Plexiglas to topiary, from Woolworth's to Versailles, from basketballs to pornographic bibelots--keeps expanding. But I have finally homed in on a mirror Koons produced in 1988, Chris and the Lamb--the title a reference to a minucule detail, almost entirely camouflaged by the gilded swirls of the rocaille frame, quoted from Leonard's Virgin, Child, and Saint Anne. Flamboyant and asymmetrical, this object could make flesh crawl, should that flesh belong to an art-lover who abides by the rules of good taste.

We might no blink at this wall decoration in a furniture store in Little Italy, but in the spaces of art it may at first produce the righteous outrage, or else the pleasurable bewilderment, that Jasper Johns' flags and Roy Lichtenstein's comic strips prompted at their debuts. Among other things, Christ and the Lamb flouts familiar categories, being at once a relief sculpture and a framed picture of the room it's in or of the spectator who confronts it. In other words, it's just a mirror, so why isn't it off with the decorative arts, instead of being mixed up with painting and sculpture? On the other hand, if we think of it in an artier category, posing the questions mirrors have often asked in art history, we might also place it in an erratic genealogical table that would include Lichtenstein's own painted illusions of framed mirrors, not to mention Marcel Duchamp's Large Glass. But Koons' provocations are hardly so lofty or metaphysical.

If Koons storms the galleries as a ruffler of feathers, it is because he jangles our preconceptions of the beautiful and the ugly, forcing us to look head-on at the weird, intricate fusion of the repellent and the enticing that marks the world of kitsch. To me, the most startling of his assaults is his resurrection, in the most unexpected contexts, of an art-historical style at the opposite extreme from modern visual prejudices: the Rococo. …

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